a state of mind
Everybody loves an adventure and each individual, no matter what sport you are involved in, dreams of taking that adventure to a certain limit beyond their comfort zone to feel that buzz, the adrenaline rush, a sense of overwhelming achievement. Just how far you take that adventure is up to the individual, you don’t learn to swim just to dip your toes in the water! No matter the realm you seek to explore there is a road of learning and experience you must travel before you can reach your destination. For me it has always been the need to explore, to find those lost shipwrecks and dive deep where few have dared to venture. Strangely enough they go together quite well. The best wrecks are usually found in deep water, intact and protected from the unforgiving elements of the sea. You can get the same buzz drifting over a canyon that drops away hundreds of metres below you as if you were standing at the top of a mountain, or making that enormous decent to 100m depth as the adrenalin kicks in just as you begin your freefall from the safety of an airplane. But what is probably missed by most people is the journey you need to take to prepare yourself for this moment. There are many divers in the world, a large percentage of which never really dive beyond 20m, a number which the sports diving world consider it “deep diving”. Take the next level of training and you can increase the depth to 40m. Not bad, we are just now entering the zone where most shipwrecks worthwhile diving lay to rest. In the technical diving world we have just reached the point of what we regard as “deep diving” begins. Here everything starts to change: equipment evolves to provide redundancy, suitable to the task in mind and of quality; we have to plan the dive in detail, know every minute where we should be, what we should be doing; plan our gases, amount needed to complete the dive, what gases we need to breath at each depth; how long we can stay at each depth, where we have to stop our ascents and what to do if something goes badly wrong – our contingency planning. In decompression diving problems have to be solved in the water with an artificial ceiling there is no just popping up to the surface to sort it out – that spells disaster or even worse a possible fatality. Just like that freefalling parachutist, if it goes wrong, solve it now or don’t solve it at all. Either way it’s up to you. So the journey is long, there is no short cut if you want to join in exploring the Earths last true frontier. Where you aware we know more about the moon than the ocean depths? Incredible when you consider 7/10ths of the planet is covered by water. To begin you need to get through the early levels of the sports diver training (open water & advanced) and then move onto the technical courses. You have to learn about the gases we breathe and understand how they affect you underwater. The impact nitrogen has on us (which is 78% of the air we normally breathe). Did you know we cannot breath 21% oxygen (air) past a depth of 66m as it becomes poisonous (oxygen toxicity) to us so we replace with helium to reduce the oxygen and nitrogen content, a product known as Trimix, allowing us to reach the depths of well over 100m and beyond. These are covered by a set of courses know as Nitrox, Advanced Nitrox, Decompression Procedures, Extended Range and Advanced Trimix. 5 courses, that will keep you busy! Each course introduces new skills, more knowledge, more equipment and a lot, lot more diving. Experience counts for a lot. Did I mention it was a long journey? But each step of the way is fun, building on the foundations of the previous course, ultimately giving you the self-belief for the adventure you are about to embark on. So now I am ready, I am sitting on the side of the boat. The time for idle chat has gone & I am running the dive plan through my mind. Refreshing the depth times and tasks to be performed, making sure my dive slate is clear on my forearm to see. Systems check: back mounted twin sets for my bottom breathing gas are open and working. My travel gas is on and ready, mounted under my left arm. My two decompression gases of different oxygen mixes are clearly labeled and ready under my right arm, that’s five cylinders in total! Main computer set correctly and working, backup computer set and working, main umbilical torch working, backup light working, main surface maker buoy and line stowed correctly, back buoy and reel stowed correctly, spare mask stowed, main knife reachable, backup knife stowed correctly. Drysuit airline working, backup BCD inflator hose stowed correctly and I haven’t even checked the camera system yet! Camera on, both strobes on, ready for somebody to pass to me in the water. Are we in the water yet? Splash, now we are ready to go. Not quite! Another round of checks at 5m with your buddy to make sure nothing is missing or air is leaking. I check him and he checks me. Now we are good to go. For me recording what I am seeing is a big part of why I dive, almost duty bound to pass on the experience to others but the preparation itself it difficult to convey. The mental process you need to go through in planning. Nobody sets my gear up, only me. Like packing your own parachute, if I mess up it’s my fault; if you screw up I’ll come back and haunt you!
As we start to drop through the water column you can feel your heart beat increase in anticipation of the dive, excited by the drop off into the abyss. We are descending 100m so the plan time just to freefall is approximately 3 minutes. At 50m we are changing from our travel gas and onto our bottom gas. As time and depth increase the more Narcosis will become a bigger factor, your senses begin to dull and the narcotic influence takes effect. Your senses kick into auto mode & you start to run the routine you have trained on so many times before; check the time – where should I be – what gas should I be breathing – are we on plan? All good , touch down, we have reached our target and now I must do the job I have come to do. I have a pre-planned list of images to try and take but the difficulty is you don’t know what the subject, the shipwreck, will be like until you are there. Too dark, murky and just boring broken chunks of metal so you have to get the perspective you need and direct your buddy into the film set in a vain hope the audience can see and understand what you are showing them. But we have a problem; my buddy is suffering from Narcosis too! So the pantomime of two divers dancing around the shipwreck unfolds as they both attempt to communicate what is required. 20 minutes bottom time is soon over, no one last photo opportunity, time is time and once the plan says up, that’s it! And so begins the long, long slow process of surfacing begins. Preforming ultimate buoyancy control & checking your ascent speed. Halting at each planned microbubble and decompression stop. Each one getting longer than the previous one. At 50m switch back to the travel gas, at 20m change to the first deco gas, then finally at 3m onto the 100% oxygen mix. Breath anyone of these at the wrong depth for too long then it could be all over in an instance. That plan now needs to be followed without deviation. Times, depths and correct gas use are critical for safety! The camera has long been stowed away and now is replaced with the surface marker buoy, as it is inflated and sent off to the surface. Each movement towards the surface requires the line to be reeled in to remove the danger of entanglement and at the same time, still controlling your buoyancy, making sure your o the right gas, monitoring your depth and time if you are on the 100% oxygen, no deeper than 6m otherwise game over! The 3m stop lasts forever, at these bottom depths don’t be surprised if you have to float there for well over 1-2 hours; all for a 20min bottom time. Finally you reach the surface and the sense of achievement is massive. You’ve been forced to be in silence for several hours & now you just want to talk! Everyone wants there story out, all the things they saw during the dive and what tribulations they had on their adventure. You are left with this smile on your face knowing that you have been somewhere & seen something few other people have witnessed on this planet and probably in time too. You know you are indeed a privileged person, having got there by your own ability and fortitude, all built on a platform of sound training. If you would like to know more about technical diving visit our website or contact:
Inside the cargo hold